Overlooked Gems: House (1986)
For about a decade and half, I thought I didn’t like horror movies. Two viewing experiences in my childhood played a major role in determining this opinion about myself…watching Carrie when I was 6 (thanks Uncle Billy) and watching Scream on a camping trip. I was convinced that horror just wasn’t my thing. But then I developed a love for Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby and The Twilight Zone and started to find a genuine appreciation for the genre. There are terrible entries in the genre, but there are also some very, very good ones. And when in the right state of mind, horror movies can even be fun.
Looking back, I wish my parents had taken the time to hand select a few horror films to introduce me to horror movies, judging which films to introduce and deciding when I was ready for them. For example, Carrie is inappropriate for a 6 year old girl! But there are movies which are probably fine to introduce to older kids who express an interest in horror; kids who identified with last year’s Frankenweenie or Paranorman. And one movie I can recommend as a good “introduction” to the horror genre is 1986’s horror-comedy House.
Don’t get me wrong…House is definitely a horror film and is spooky and jumpy enough to provide some real scares. But the movie is also very, very funny and campy enough to cut the tension. But more important than being a comedy-horror, is the fact that House is the definition of a classic haunted house/monster movie. And there just aren’t enough modern monster movies out there.
House is the story of Roger Cobb, played by William Katt (you know, Carrie’s date who was killed with a paint can), a Stephen King-esque horror writer, who decides to try to work out some of his “issues” by writing the memoirs of his Vietnam service. His Vietnam experience included a wild buddy named Big Bed (Richard Moll) who was injured and pleaded with Roger to kill him before he could be taken prisoner. Almost two decades later and still haunted by the events and guilt, Cobb’s life is a wreck after his son goes missing, he separates from his wife, and the aunt who raised him commits suicide. Like his aunt, Cobb believes there is something stirring in the house and rather than simply try to sell the house, he’s stays. And soon the demons come out to play.
A big reason to love House, with all it’s faults, is the fact that the movie has an old-fashion charm and playfulness, without being outright silly. Before the onslaught of computer animation and digital-effects, movies had to be made by hand, with simple tricks and puppets. And House accepts the limitations without giving in to the laugh or winking at the audience (which the sequel is guilty of doing). House actually is a nice companion piece to the Evil Dead films, including having a less than perfect leading man.
Like Bruce Campbell, William Katt is the type of actor who did camp a little too well for his career. If you consider his career, he excels in the kind of films which most actors would be laughed off the screen for doing. From Greatest American Hero to Carrie to Butch and Sundance: The Early Years, Katt really is a skilled genre actor, never given enough credit. And his commitment to the role of Roger Cobb is certainly one of strengths of the film, especially when having to act opposite gremlins, corpses, and his neighbor, George Wendt.
House is available on DVD and on-demand. A limited, deluxe edition of the film was released by Anchor Bay in 2004 – get it here.
Images from House